Five ways adults can get involved with local science

Being a test subject is one way to see how research is done
Image credit: NIAID
by Gaia Cantelli, PhD

You love science. You think it’s cool. But science is not your job – so what can you do if you would like to find out more? Going back to college and getting another degree in molecular biology is probably not on the cards. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get involved with science while balancing everything else you have going on in your life. Here are some hot tips on how to get started!

1. Find your local science museum
If you live in or near a medium to large city, chances are you can easily visit some type of science museum, or a zoo that has some type of educational exhibit. Make the most not only of the museum, but of the events they offer. Many places these days will offer adult nights, with wine and special projects, or meet-the-scientist days, as well as a variety of special exhibitions and popular science talks. Make the most of them! Keep in touch with through social media and really take advantage of all the work that goes into planning these activities. It can be a great way not only to get involved with science at a local level, but also to hear about other projects and initiatives you can take part in, and connect with other people.

2. Look for citizen science projects
Citizen science, the work done by interested citizens with no formal science training, is becoming a larger and larger part of how science works. Have a look online for projects you can become involved in. For example, if you are interested in zoology and botany you can take part in wildlife surveys by keeping an eye on the birds and mammals in your back yard or by taking part in special nature walks or bird banding. Tracking the migration of birds and butterflies can be a great way to spend your weekends, get some exercise and maybe get the family involved! If you are more into the indoors, there are plenty of citizen science projects designed to get your help in going through large data sets – a chance for you to take part in real science while helping with worthwhile causes. For instance, you can help scientists find galaxies in deep space, track penguins in remote regions, take part in anatomy research and study the structure of the brain, all from the comfort of your own home.

Banding birds like this house sparrow is a good way
to get involved in science. Credit: Starr Environmental
Used via Flickr CC BY 2.0 licence
3. Volunteer with science-based charities
If you have a special interest in the way science can help people, a great way to get involved is to volunteer with science-related charities. Whether it is cancer research, animal conservation or climate change, getting involved in the outreach portion of charities carrying forward great missions is a fantastic way to help and to get involved with the science they do. Working side-by side with professional scientists and science communicators can be your way in, to learn more about their projects and maybe even participate as a citizen scientist. Many charities also offer lab tours and special talks to their donors – something to consider if you can afford to donate to a good cause and don’t have the time to volunteer.

4. Volunteer to be a test subject
If you live near a research institution of some type, like a university or a research hospital, chances are that you have the real opportunity to become involved in real-life research as a test subject. Medical studies often need healthy volunteers, and do psychology and neuroscience studies. It’s a great way to get involved with research, chat with the scientists doing the work and often even make a bit of cash on the side!

5. Subscribe to a popular science magazine
If you don’t feel you have the time to dedicate to these activities, a great way to keep track of new scientific discoveries is to subscribe to a paper or online popular science magazine. For example, you can sign up for regular ScienceSeeker updates in the ‘Subscribe via E-mail’ bar on the right for a curated version of the best popular science articles on the internet!

Gaia Cantelli is a lecturing fellow at Duke University, studying the mechanisms that regulate cancer cell metastasis to the bone and she regularly blogs over at scienceblog.com.

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